£4 Billion Big Bang Machine Gets Going Again After False Start

By Culture24 Staff | 05 January 2009
A picture of a metalic cylinder inside a tunnel with a workman in a hard hat overlooking it

A view inside two sectors of the tunnel at the site. Pic courtesy CERN

Work on a £4 billion machine aiming to recreate the “Big Bang” by smashing atoms together will be stepped up this year after a three-month re-appraisal following a catastrophic malfunction in September.

A faulty electrical connection between two of the Large Hadron Collider’s magnets resulted in a helium explosion and estimated mechanical damage in the region of £20 million following a high-profile launch for the simulator four months ago.

“We have a lot of work to do over the coming months," said Lyn Evans, who has been leading the team behind the experiment at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory on the Franco-Swiss border.

A picture of a red metallic box

Damage to the supports of one of the quadrupoles contributed to the failure of the original launch. Pic courtesy CERN

“We now have the roadmap, the time and the competence necessary to be ready for physics by summer. We are currently in a scheduled annual shutdown until May, so we're hopeful that not too much time will be lost.”

Although the particle accelerator enjoyed a successful launch, colliding opposing beams of protons travelling a fraction slower than the speed of light, the underground venture shed tonnes of liquid helium less than a fortnight later, providing a major setback to the work of thousands of academics and laboratories across the world.

A picture of mangled wires and metal

Two of the interconnects which were badly damaged when disaster struck just two weeks after the initial start date of the experiment. Pic courtesy CERN

A report on the failed launch indicated that 53 magnets from the unit would be cleaned or repaired by March 2009, with engineers implementing a warning system in an attempt to avoid future false starts.

“The top priority for CERN today is to provide collision data for the experiments as soon as reasonably possible,” said CERN Director General Robert Aymar. “This will be in the summer of 2009.”

Scientists are hopeful that the re-enactment of the energy force which began the universe 15 billion years ago will provide clues on topical conundrums including how black holes develop.

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